Coweta County Schools

Guidelines in place for students’ mental wellness

by Celia Shortt

Editor’s note: This is part of a special focus this week on depression and suicide in Coweta County, in the wake of the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams.

The Coweta County School System has seen “very few, if any” suicides in the last 10 years, but it still maintains a consistent approach in dealing with it and any attempts.

“We have a consistent procedure,” said Maria Carroll, lead psychologist for the Coweta schools. “We call it our crisis guidelines, so that every school in the county follows the same procedure ... it involves making sure everyone (school resource officer, principal, parents, and student) is aware.

If a student makes a suicide threat or attempt, the school resource officer is the first to be notified.

He or she really “guides the process,” of whether the child remains in the school or is transported to Piedmont Newnan, said Mary Cousins, the juvenile court liaison for the school system.

The parents of the student are notified and usually one arrives at the school and signs a release to allow the school to share the information with the hospital and collaborate with it. The school also provides a written document of what happened with the student, so the parents do not have to recap the situation.

“It’s a shock” for a lot of them, said Cousins.

Piedmont Newnan will then assess the student’s condition and let the school know whether he or she needs to be transferred for additional care or will be headed home.

With some families, this can be a recurring incident, and those will usually go directly to their psychiatrist.

Prior to re-entering the school system, the student will go through student support services and create a safety plan.

The safety plan was made more user-friendly in the last year, said Cousins. It “gives us information about the child and not just a list of guidelines for the school to go by.”

Cousins added the student also participates in the development of the plan. It is then merged with the information from the hospital and given to everyone when the student is released.

Erin Bass, the ninth grade school counselor at Northgate High School, said even though the signs of depression and possible suicide are different for every student, the safety plan is still a valuable tool.

“But just me knowing and having that safety plan in place, I can know that specific child, and making that connection – it’s important to me,” Bass said.

The school system relies on these crisis guidelines and safety plans to help, but, more importantly, they are constantly working to help students before the need for them arises.

The main way they do this is by building relationships with the students, parents, teachers and administration.

Relationships are “extremely ... important,” said Bass. “If they feel disconnected, I think that can definitely exacerbate the problems.”

“I think that’s one of the positives of Coweta,” said Carroll. “It’s always ‘support the student.’ We make sure it’s open, and the student feels supported, that they can come without any ramifications.”

With any type of serious situation involving students or teachers, such as a death, suicide or suicide attempt, the school system will send a crisis team to the affected school. At their core, crisis teams include school psychologists and several counselors. They are led by the school counselor, who coordinates everything.

Once dispatched to a school, the team remains there until no longer needed.

“I think with the supports we’ve put in place that we’re not seeing some of the other things that some of the other systems are seeing, with the frequency and intensity of what’s going on in other systems,” said Carroll.

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